The so-called "cocaine hippos" of South America are in the news again.
Late Show host Stephen Colbert joked:
"Scientists warn Colombia's cocaine hippos must be stopped... Cocaine hippos are like regular hippos, but they corner you at parties and insist you guys should start a band. Problem is the hippos have no predator and now pose a threat to local wildlife."
Let's be clear: These are not coke-snorting mammals. When Pablo Escobar was at his peak running the Medellín Cartel in Colombia (they primarily produced and exported coke around the world), he imported four African hippos in the '80s. After Escobar was killed by police in 1993, the hippos were able to escape to the nearby Magdelena River. There are now upwards of 100 hippos patrolling the waters of Colombia.
According to an article in The Cut, "The 'Cocaine Hippos' Are Out of Control":
"The ecological impact of their party lifestyle has been, and could continue to be, devastating."
Of course, this is meant to be funny. But National Geographic paints another picture, quoting Danish biologist Jens-Christian Svenning who believes hippos can offer "ecosystem services" once provided by large herbivores like toxodons and tapirs. "Hippos could likely contribute a partial restoration of these effects, likely beneifitting native biodiversity overall," he wrote in 2017.